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England see off Serbia to seal Israel trip

Serbia 0-1 England (agg: 0-2)
Stuart Pearce's charges booked a trip to Israel next June after a late Connor Wickham strike secured a slender victory in Krusevac.

England players rush to congratulate goalscorer Connor Wickham after his late strike
England players rush to congratulate goalscorer Connor Wickham after his late strike ©Getty Images

England booked their place in the 2013 UEFA European Under-21 Championship after a last-gasp goal decided their play-off in Serbia.

The shadow of the prize of qualification loomed large over the match, producing a tight affair, which was sealed only in the 95th minute by a Connor Wickham goal after Serbia had gone close to wiping out their 1-0 first-leg deficit.

Stuart Pearce, who saw Danny Rose receive a second booking after the final whistle along with Serbia's Slobodan Medojević as players and staff from both teams took to the pitch, will lead England in Israel next summer in his fourth consecutive U21 finals.

He said: "We came away from home to a really difficult place to play and build on what we had from the first leg so I'm massively proud of that and the players' achievements. It was a close tie between two teams who were really going hammer and tongs and it's just a shame it was soured at the end."

Despite the home team making the early inroads down the channels, England came close to snatching a priceless away goal inside four minutes. Jordan Henderson's precise through ball behind Medojević picked out Marvin Sordell, who then cut back inside and cracked a shot off the left upright.

At the other end unmarked Nikola Ninković almost profited at the back post from Darko Lazović's free-kick, but his low curler back across goal narrowly missed the bottom corner. Rose's free-kick from deep was next to cause problems, Craig Dawson beating goalkeeper Branimir Aleksić to the high delivery, but directing his header wide.

Serbia started the second half brightly and heavy pressure almost paid dividends but England No1 Jack Butland was alert to a dangerously misdirected Ninković cross. While Serbia bossed possession for long periods, Butland remained untroubled by an array of long-range efforts and commanded his area superbly under aerial pressure.

Pearce's charges rode out the storm and eventually got the goal to end all doubt. Thomas Ince broke after a late Serbia corner, at which home keeper Aleksić was making his presence known, and Ince squared for substitute Wickham to roll into an empty net with the final touch of the game.

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